When I was in first grade I had a Pokemon lunchbox, a Pokemon backpack, and an entire collection book full of Pokemon cards. Fast forward 15 years and 8 garage sales and I had forgotten my favorite childhood game altogether. That is, until the newest international sensation, Pokemon Go!
For those of you who are unfamiliar... stop reading this and go back under your hole. I envy you. I've always wanted to live in a hole.
Just kidding! For those of you who aren't familiar, Pokemon Go is a free app (that you play on your $500 cell phone) where kids (and... others) can travel around town and "catch" new Pokemon. Pokemon can then battle one another. The game Pokemon Go presents users with an original game of Pokémon in a more 2016 context. By the way, a Pokemon is a fictional "pocket monster" that can be carried on one's belt with a "poke-ball."
There's other stuff too, but from the users I've spoken with, it's mostly about catching new Pokémon.
If you enjoy the game, great! My point is not that Pokemon Go is evil. This blog post is to reinforce the fact that nature is exponentially better, and to evaluate the theory that Pokémon Go is a great way to "get kids outdoors."
Let me explain...
As I mentioned earlier, the point of Pokemon Go is to walk around and find interesting creatures. What if I told you there were creatures all around us, that do way cooler things than fire breathing or lightning zapping? Here are a few examples, and believe it or not, they all exist outside of your cell phone!
Reptiles like frogs and turtles have super adaptations that allow them to survive through the cold winter! Wood frogs can even freeze and thaw themselves during the winter time.
These are just a few great examples! You can't catch them of course, but you can't really catch Pokemon either, on account of them not being real.
Folks who regularly keep up with me on social media and this blog expected this answer from me. Showing kids (and "older" kids) the awesomeness of nature is my favorite thing in the whole world. It doesn't require an app that can only be downloaded on a $500 phone, and it doesn't encourage anyone to cross busy streets or walk off of cliffs.
However, after hearing all the talk (good and bad) I wanted to explore this first hand.
I'm not the kind of guy who likes to judge something before I experience it first-hand, so I took the opportunity on a recent family reunion to test the app that I had heard so much about. So, I set out with a baby, my cousins, parents, aunt, sisters, and wife, to see what this Pokémon Go thing was all about.
For the first 200 yards or so there was no sign of Pokémon. However, there were some great wild edibles growing along the road. I'm always amazed when I find common plants in challenging environments (8000+ feet above sea level in this case). I didn't mention anything about the plants, because it had been a long summer of pointing out plants, and my wife was sick of it at that point.
Then there it was! The Pokémon!
We came across some crazy looking thing and I forget which one it was. My cousins took turns using the phone. They are only allowed to play the game with mom, and since mom is the only one with the phone (as she should be) they don't really have a choice in the matter. I think this is something to point out. Their mom doesn't let them play unsupervised. This limits the time that they can play, but it makes it a family activity. This also allows my aunt to provide supervision, something our fellow Americans who have so enthusiastically plunged into moving vehicles in their quest for their fictional monsters didn't have. My aunt mentioned that they're a lot of fun to walk with while they're playing the game, and that they don't complain about how far they've walked, which is definitely a plus!
After we caught the Pokémon my 18 year old sister exclaimed "there's a hospital up here!" She then ran into the middle of a street to get her extra Pokeballs, or whatever you do at a "hospital." We continued on and caught another Pokémon. It was a good walk, and a fun time with family. It probably wasn't as much fun as hiking on a wilderness trail, but for being in town, it was a good time.
On our hike back to the cabin we heard that there was a moose nearby! A real moose!
We stood back and looked at the moose for about ten minutes. He really didn't seem to mind, and eventually he stepped to the side and we were able to get back to our cabin. I'm a grown up nature geek, so I can't speak for everyone in our group, but I would assume that 20 years from now we will all remember that bull moose! I can't say the same for our beloved mythical pocket-monsters.
Is Pokémon Go bad? I don't think so. It gets kids walking, instead of sitting on the couch. It can be a fun family activity. But don't be fooled into thinking that Pokémon Go gets kids "outside."
I've heard the argument that Pokémon Go can be used as a "gateway drug" to enjoying the outdoors.
I'm not convinced.
If I may employ the phrase from the movie The Princess Bride, 'there's a big difference between all outside and only mostly outside' or, something like that. Playing a game on a phone does not encourage kids to use their 5 senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste). It doesn't encourage kids to learn about the real, natural world around them.
To experience nature, you need to be all outside, not "only mostly outside." You'll never feel more free than when you're paddling a canoe, or trekking through the wilderness with everything you need resting comfortably on your back. Even a walk at a local nature area can be relaxing, enlightening, and downright fun.
If you're grown and you want to play Pokémon Go, give your mother a call so that she can supervise you.
Of course, my opinion is worth exactly what you're paying for it, which is nothing.
As always, thanks for reading, and never stop exploring!
About the Author
Sam is a writer, adventurer, and founder of Woodsong. In 2011 his practical experiences over many nights in remote wilderness areas inspired him to start this blog! Sam’s adventures have lead him throughout North America where he has had the opportunity to learn from world-class outdoorsmen, and perhaps the greatest teacher of all, the natural world.